Summit Audio EQP-200 by Lagerfeldt
Picture © 2009 Holger Lagerfeldt, not to be used without permission. The EQ-200 is in the middle of the photo, sitting right above the Crane Song STC-8/M.
Summit Audio EQ-200 Review
· Sounds clean, pleasant and detailed
· Unparalleled flexibility and workflow for an analog equalizer
· True stereo control, digital recall, and A/B comparison feature
· Full range of equalizers: HPF, LPF, parametric bands, low and high shelf
· Not suitable for extreme surgical cuts
· Built-in fan, though it is small, slow and low noise
Summary Of Features
· Analog design by Mr. Rupert Neve
· Class A solid state
· Digital control of all functions
· True stereo control or dual mono
· Recall and user presets
· A/B comparison feature
· MIDI or TDM plug-in controllable
· 2 flexible LPF or HPF filters
· 4 bands of parametric EQ
· Low and high shelf EQ (swappable for low and high band of parametric EQ)
· Coarse and fine gain settings
Background Of This Review
I was looking for an alternative unit to complement my Gyraf G14 Parallel Passive Tube Equalizer and Flux Epure II digital equalizer. In my mastering workflow I prefer to work with stereo controllable equalizers if possible, so I was looking for a true stereo linked, solid-state, mastering quality equalizer. This setup has been complemented by a KuSh Audio Clariphonic EQ as well.
Appearance And Feel
The Summit Audio EQ-200 is quite a looker with its shiny anodized metal frontplate and an intriguing interface design. The original official packshot shows it in a blue shade, but it is in fact a highly reflective metal surface.
At 27 pounds it is heavy machinery, but that comes as no surprise considering how much functionality and quality Mr. Neve and Summit have managed to cram into this 2 unit machine.
Apart from a power cord and rack screws, a concise 22 page manual as well as a stapled 4 page quick start guide are included in the box. A MIDI implementation chart for SysEx and CC codes can be requested from Summit Audio by email.
Front Panel Quick Overview
The front consist of 6 sections: the input and filter section, 4 equalizer sections, and the master output and preset section. The input and output sections each have a LED display which doubles as a button, and one digital rotary encoder. Each equalizer section also has a LED button, and two rotary encoders for gain and frequency respectively. The frequency encoder controls bandwidth when toggled.
The square LED buttons have a quality cushioned feel to them, and change status color when pushed. The text in the displays has good contrast and is easy to read, even for a myopic like myself.
The rotary encoders initially look more plastic-ey and light but feel reassuringly comfortable when turned. They let off very discrete muffled clicks as they rotate through the steps, and the small orange indicator light follows the movement in the outer ring of the knob.
The EQ-200 has two very flexible filters. Each can work as a 12dB/Octave high-pass or low-pass filter. This means you can have a HPF and a LPF at the same time or you can stack two filters of the same kind for a steeper 24dB/Octave slope. Since the filters are completely independent you can even have two filters of the same kind at two different frequencies.
The HPF sounds smooth and natural in the 20 to 80 Hz range, where it will see most action during mastering. There is no weird phase shift and there is no noticeable filter ringing. Above 80 Hz the HPF itself becomes increasingly audible, though I attribute this to the unavoidable increase in perception of the filter ringing in most equalizers at higher HPF frequency settings.
Since I am not a big fan of low-pass filtering in mastering, I was pleasantly surprised by the smooth high end dampening qualities of the higher settings in the LPF. It can be set from 30 kHz and down, not just the 20 kHz maximum setting you often find. This extended range enables you to control the cutoff point around the Nyquist frequency more precisely or with greater subtlety. The 18 kHz setting worked well on a mix with a brittle and “digital” high end; the LPF instead keeping the top end smooth and natural.
Since the LPF can be combined with boosting the high parametric or more likely the high shelf, the LPF in the EQ-200 is definitely an option to consider once in a while when aiming for an open but rounded top end.
The HPF cutoff frequency ranges from 20 Hz to 320 Hz in the following steps:
Off, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 95, 115, 135, 160, 190, 225, 270, 320 (Hz)
The LPF cutoff frequency ranges from 30 kHz to 4 kHz in the following steps:
Off, 30, 26, 23, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 11, 10, 8.7, 7.6, 6.6, 5.8, 5.1, 4.5, 4 (kHz)
Parametric And Shelving Bands
The EQ-200 offers a choice of 4 bands of peak/parametric equalizers: Low, Low Mid, High Mid, High. The low and high bands can be swapped for a low or high shelf respectively, and all bands have plenty of frequency overlap.
All bands provide you with -16 dB to +16 dB of gain in 2 dB or 0.5 dB increments. You toggle between coarse and fine gain mode by clicking the gain knob. The coarse/fine setting is remembered as long as the unit is on but it is reset to coarse when shut down.
The low band peaking filter ranges from 30 Hz to 300 Hz and has a fixed bandwidth of Q=1.1, which makes it a quasi-parametric. The low peak equalizer is great for adding or subtracting bass in a particular area, but it is not effective in removing a narrow resonance problem. The fixed bandwidth in the low band is a limitation but it’s part of a valuable tradeoff: It gives you the option of swapping the peak equalizer for a low shelf equalizer.
The low shelf equalizer operates in the same frequency area (30 to 300 Hz) and sounds very good. The EQ-200 is generally a clean unit in all respects but the shelving equalizers have slightly more color to them than the rest of the bands. I found that the subtle coloration made the low shelf effective in enhancing the “oomph” even at moderate settings of +1.5 dB or less.
Low mid parametric
The low mid band is a parametric equalizer with adjustable bandwidth. The frequency area ranges from 100 Hz to 1 kHz with the bandwidth adjustment ranging from Q=0.60 to Q=2. The narrowest bandwidth of half an octave is more than adequate for most cuts but it will not act as an extreme surgical tool. I found the low mid band perfect for finding and carving out common resonance problems in the 150 - 800 Hz area.
By default the frequency knob controls the frequency. The selected frequency is shown in the LED button as well as being indicated by the orange light in the ring around the knob. Clicking the frequency knob toggles to bandwidth control (Q). The LED button now shows the Q value but the frequency is still shown in the frequency ring. Gain amount is always controllable and is displayed in both the LED button and in the ring around the gain knob at all times.
High mid parametric
The high mid band is also a parametric equalizer with adjustable bandwidth. It ranges from 500 Hz to 5 kHz with identical bandwidth options to the low mid band. Just like the low mid it sounds great for both cutting and boosting, always pleasant and effective, especially in bringing forward lead vocals - or pulling back harsh ones. The available steps will suffice in most situations or alternative frequencies can be reached via the high band peak equalizer via the overlapping frequency range, but you are likely using the high band for something else already.
The high band ranges from 2 kHz to 20 kHz, and similar to the low band you have a choice of either peak or shelving EQ. The high shelf equalizer works well with very gentle gain settings of +0.5 dB or +1 dB, lifting the high end in a subtle and agreeable manner. As is the case with the the low shelf, it is clear that the high shelf in the EQ-200 is different to its often lifeless generic digital counterpart, instead sounding detailed and wide.
The low band peak/shelving ranges from 30 Hz to 300 Hz in the following steps:
30, 35, 40, 46, 53, 61, 70, 82, 95, 110, 125, 145, 1750, 195, 220, 260, 300 (Hz)
The low mid band parametric ranges from 100 Hz to 1 kHz in the following steps:
100, 115, 135, 160, 180, 200, 235, 275, 315, 365, 420, 480, 560, 650, 750, 870, 1000 (Hz)
The high mid band parametric ranges from 500 Hz to 5 kHz in the following steps:
500, 580, 670, 770, 890 (Hz), 1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.k, 2.1, 2.4, 2.8, 3.2, 3.8, 4.3, 5 (kHz)
The high band peak/shelving ranges from 2 kHz to 20 kHz in the following steps:
2, 2.3, 2.7, 3.0, 3.6, 4.1, 4.7, 5.5, 6.3, 7.3, 8.5, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20 (kHz)
Q is adjustable in the low mid and high mid parametric bands from Q=0.60 to Q=2. Rotating through the following settings is a fluid experience:
0.60, 0.65, 0.70, 0.75, 0.81, 0.87, 0.94, 1.0, 1.1 (default), 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.0 (Q)
Operation And Interface
Using the EQ-200 is easy and intuitive, in fact I predicted most of the controls without reading the manual first. However, I advice you read the part in the manual about switching and locking presets.
True Stereo Or Dual Mono Control
The overall functionality is quite amazing for an analog equalizer. Having true stereo operation in an analog equalizer not only gives you completely accurate left/right settings but it can speed up the workflow significantly. And you still have the choice of working in dual mono to address frequency imbalances in the stereo image.
Recall, Presets, And A/B Compare
The EQ-200 is 100% digitally controlled which means you get full and accurate recall, 25 user presets, easy A/B comparison of presets, and MIDI or TDM plug-in automation or control. A/B’ing of presets is brilliantly conceived: Double clicking the master rotary encoder automatically switches between the current and previously loaded preset. Presets switch instantly and without artifacts.
Working With Presets
There is no need to store presets. Any adjustment you make to a preset is saved in real-time unless the preset is locked. When a preset is locked any changes you make still take place but they will reset if you switch off the unit or switch to another preset.
Another benefit of having presets is being able to use your own favorite default settings as a starting point, and naturally it makes it possible to do old-skool mastering on-the-fly equalizer adjustments between segments without worrying about shaky hands.
The inability to copy presets is a minor disappointment though, especially when you want to use the A/B function. Instead you have to manually dial in the alternative preset first - which in all fairness only takes about 15 seconds. You quickly come to expect all the things associated with a plug-in equalizer when working with the EQ-200!
You can bypass each band individually by pushing the associated LED button once. This switches the color to amber and changes the channel select symbol in the display. You can bypass all 4 equalizer bands at the same time by holding the master LED button and pushing any band LED button.
Bypassing can as expected sometimes yield a small sound. For critical automation purposes it is however possible to get a completely silent bypass by making a preset with all bands active but with zero gain. Then you A/B or automate a preset switch. Since the EQ-200 is clean and flat even with all bands are engaged, it can almost sit permanently in your chain without much to worry about.
For some design reason the filter section is not bypassed when using the master bypass function. A minor irritation but fortunately the above preset switching work-around will take care of this too.
Automating the gain knobs during a pass can result in very, very low and muffled clicks in the audio chain as also known from equalizers with kobs using real switches instead of physically detented pots. Fortunately the clicks do not contain sub or high frequencies and will not be audible at all during normal use. It could be an issue if you are automating gain during a very low volume and soft sounding solo instrument or acapella passage with absolutely no transient masking, in which case you have to make separate passes and splice later.
The EQ-200 has lots of small and well thought out touches. Not only does it have a grade A audio chain by Rupert Neve but it is evident that great care has been put into designing a user friendly interface, currently in its 2.23 version.
The input section shows a small input peak meter, and in identical manner to the master section, it will flash red 3 dB before overloading the +21 dBu input. The input section also controls L/R polarity and MIDI ID.
The master section also has a peak meter, showing the output of course. The master section equalizer gain trim (+/- 16 dB of gain) actually occurs prior to the equalizer modules.
The master section also has what Summit terms an “output fader”. It offers the possibility of doing an analog fade out approximating a standard fader curve with -20 dB occurring mid scale, according to the manual. In real life I find little use for this function but since it can be automated and even unlinked someone, somewhere may find it useful.
Another somewhat superfluous feature: Installing an internal jumper can kick up the potential output from the standard +21 dBu to +28 dBu.
The unit can be turned off completely on the back only but you can put it into sleep mode from the front panel.
I think that the Summit Audio EQ-200 is a hidden gem, especially for mastering. Considering the amazing sonics, excellent technical specifications, true stereo control and recallability there is simply no reason for this unit not to live side by side with another high quality analog mastering equalizer or in combination with a digital/plug-in equalizer.
Perhaps the explanation for its lack of market penetration into the mastering world is to be found in its origin: it was originally designed as part of the TEC Award winning MPE-200 preamp/equalizer. A no-compromise unit which Mr. Rupert Neve considered his best work at the time.
The sound is clean and detailed, yet pleasant with the extra width and depth perception associated with good sounding analog. It has the lowest self-noise in my gear park and is extremely flat with all bands engaged without gain. The interface is ingenious and very intuitive to use, and the whole unit simply oozes no-compromise design.
I paid the equivalent of USD $6,083 including shipping and taxes in Denmark. The price is cheaper in the US, about USD $4,000-$4,500, so all things considered it is an absolute bargain for mastering.
Communication and support from Summit Audio have been top-notch at all times, something I really appreciate as a professional customer.